Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives

John 7:14—52

Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.  (John 7:14)

All of a sudden, Jesus appeared at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.  You will recall that instead of traveling up to Jerusalem with His brothers, Jesus let them go on ahead and followed later, hoping to slip into town, unnoticed.  The religious leaders were out to get Jesus, maybe even kill Him, and Jesus was such a lightening rod, His public presence would have been a distraction, taking away from the solemnity of this important Jewish feast.

On God’s calendar, this Feast of Tabernacles is symbolic of the Second Coming of Christ and all the events leading up to that event.  This particular feast speaks of the consummation of all these things.  Our Lord will appear as suddenly when He returns as He did when He walked into Jerusalem midway through the festivities.

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.  (Malachi 3:1)

Even though Jesus was past the apex of His ministry, there were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem for the feast that when He found a quiet place to sit down to teach, the crowds found Him and listened.  Among His listeners were the religious leaders, who were forced to admit Jesus’ acumen and wisdom.

The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”  (verse 15)

These men were astounded because unlike them, Jesus had no formal rabbinical training, and yet He could speak as clearly about theological issues as they could.

1.  Jesus sets them straight, verses 16—24

Jesus’ response to His critics shows that they had closed minds; they were not open to even the slightest possibility Christ’s teaching could come from a place other than a Jewish seminary.

Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.”  (verse 16)

Jesus gave complete credit to God for His teachings, in contrast to the Jews.  If anybody in the crowd had problems with His teachings, the teachings themselves could be put to the test—

If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.  (verses 17, 18)

What Jesus really did in these verses was to establish a basic principle:  before anybody could hope to evaluate or understand His teachings, he must do two things:

  • He must be actively engaged in seeking to do God’s will.  The use of the word “chooses” indicates a definite act of the will; a person hoping to understand the Gospel must be determined to know God’s will and purpose within themselves to fulfill it (verse 17).
  • The other prerequisite for grasping the Word of God is obedience to it.  As observed by Tenney, “Obedience to God’s known will develops discernment between falsehood and truth.”

Knowledge of God’s will and doing His will are inseparable; belief must always lead to action.

But Jesus’ words mean even more.  Implied is the notion that the one who speaks and acts on the authority of another reflects the character of the one whom he represents.  Jesus was sent by God and therefore reflects the character of God; Jesus could not be a liar because the One who sent Him is not a liar, He is God.

The religious leaders criticizing Jesus were, in truth, teaching their own version of God’s law, hence they were the ones misrepresenting God, always seeking to promote themselves and their own glory.  These men could not wrap their minds around all the interest in the teaching of Jesus.  But Jesus’ teachings were completely reliable and truthful and not at all deceitful; the religion of the religious leaders was nothing but a show; a false pretense.  Jesus confronted this hypocrisy head on with His rhetorical question—

Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”  (verse 19)

In other words, Moses’ teaching came from God and it was reliable and truthful and was not at all deceitful, but these religious leaders were not keeping that law.  How were they not keeping the law?  Simply this:  they would not think twice about circumcising a male child on the 8th day even if the 8th day happened to fall on the Sabbath.  These same men, who seemed to be able to make a right judgment where conflicting laws were involved, could not seem to a right judgment where values were concerned—

Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?  (verse 23)

The Jews, in trying to keep the letter of the law, limited the freedom of all men; Jesus, however, in performing one miracle on the Sabbath, liberated not only the paralytic He healed, but all who believed in Him.  Those people whose morality is based on legalism easily make wrong judgments about people and things that lead to the destruction of real values.  This is why Jesus sums up his argument like this—

Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.  (verse 24)

In the broadest sense, Jesus told the religious leaders to stop making superficial judgments because merely seeing a thing cannot reveal all the facts of a matter, and therefore the resultant judgment would be flawed.  In the narrowest sense, verse 24 is Jesus’ advice about Himself:  the Jews needed to stop judging Him by mere appearances.  A right judgment in the case of Jesus would end all the controversy that currently surrounded Him.

2.  The people respond, verses 25—31

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”  (verses 25—27)

Obviously, the general population of Jerusalem was confused about Jesus and opinion was sharply divided.  If he was such a threat, then why hadn’t the religious authorities censored Him?  Truth be told, Jesus was still popular enough to cause the authorities to be extremely cautious; act too harshly toward Jesus, a riot may ensue.  However, within 18 months almost all of Jerusalem wanted Jesus crucified.  When things change, they change quickly.

Of interest is the people’s statement that they knew where Jesus came from and their belief that nobody would know where the Messiah would come from.   Again we see ignorant people making wrong judgments, this time based on something as flimsy as an old Jewish saying that “three things come wholly unexpected, Messiah, a god-send, and scorpion.”

As only Jesus could do, He ridiculed the crowd—

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”  (verses 28, 29)

Our Lord’s first sentence may be read as a kind of ironic question:  “So you think you know me?  You think you know where I come from?”  Jesus slammed the Jews for daring to think that they, legalistic, biased, and filled with wrong notions about the Messiah, could know anything about Him.  They thought they knew all about the Messiah, yet they knew nothing at all.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, Jesus again asserted His divine origin and restated His divine mission and unequivocally told those listening that they did not know God.  This was no meek and mild shepherd speaking here; His words inflamed many in the crowd so much so that they reacted in extreme violence—

At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.  (verse 30)

But still, there were some who, though not fully convinced of Jesus’ claims, saw something special in Jesus; enough to almost convince them that He could be the Messiah (verse 31).

3.  Persistent unbelief, verses 32—52

The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.  (verse 32)

It was the ambivalence of the crowd that moved the Pharisees to action.  This was the first organized attempt to seize and silence Jesus, probably at the behest of the Sanhedrin.  Jesus diffused this tense situation by a very enigmatic statement that hinted about His coming Crucifixion.   Of course, the Jewish leaders had no idea what Jesus was talking about and so, as they were in the habit of doing, jumped to yet another wrong conclusion—

The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”  (verses 35, 36)

Notice the arrogance!  As far as they were concerned, there was nowhere Jesus could run where the tentacles of their influence couldn’t find Him.

Remember what Jesus once said back in Matthew 7:7—

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Is that a blanket promise?  Of course not!  One must seek Christ for the right reason in order to find Him.  These arrogant religious types could never hope to find Jesus because their motivation was worldly and wrong.  To such, Christ hides Himself.

Not only would the Jewish leaders never be able to find Jesus, they were worlds apart from Him in every way—

You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”  (verse 34)

While some have taken the phrase “where I am, you cannot come” to mean they can never enter  “heaven,” a close examination shows that Jesus had even more in mind that that.  The word “cannot” means literally “lack power” or “be unable.”  In other words, these unbelievers would be unable to be with Jesus where He is and where He will be because they lack the inherent power or ability.  If we compare this idea with other verses in John (like 6:53, for example), Jesus is implying that holiness of heart and spiritual separation to Christ is what is necessary to be with Jesus both now and in the future.  Lightfoot wrote—

When the Lord is standing before His opponents, they cannot come where He is, because they do not share His mind…Separation from Him is caused not by distance in space, but by likeness of heart and mind and spirit.

Persistent unbelief is what separates a person from Christ.  One who stubbornly refuses to believe will never be able to find Christ.  It is one thing to have honest questions about Christ, but unbelief is something Christ can never tolerate.

4.  Pentecost prophesied, verses 37, 38

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

The climax of the controversy occurred on the “last and greatest day of the Feast.”  The power of Jesus’ words can only be realized when we understand what happened on this great day.  The last day of the Feast of Tabernacles was really the eighth day, which was a day of spiritual observance, including a great offering to God.  Remember, the Feast of Tabernacles commemorated the wilderness wanderings of the Jews after their exodus from Egypt.  For forty long years they wandered about the desert, living in tents, and experiencing a scarcity of food and especially of water.  When at last the people finally entered the Promised Land, they were met with bountiful crops and regular rainfall.

Each day during the Feast, a procession of priests journeyed from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam; they drew out a bowl of water which was then poured out upon the altar in remembrance of the blessings of the Promised Land; the abundance of food and water.  This celebration was accompanied by a reading of Isaiah 12:3—

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

This whole scene drives home several important ideas:

  • Siloam literally means “sent,” which reminds us that Jesus was sent by God to establish Heaven’s new order on earth.  Jesus fulfills everything symbolized by the pool and the water-pouring ceremony;
  • In this celebration, we see that what was external and limited—the seasonal rainfall of the Canaan, symbolized by a daily  pouring out upon the altar—was to be replaced by something dynamic and internal, flowing from within a redeemed person outward.
  • This is the Spirit-filled life, characterized by abundance, both as to its Source (Jesus Christ) and to its impact (reaching the entire world).
  • Finally, the celebration prefigures the fact that what Jesus did made Pentecost possible.

Commenting on this part of the Feast of Tabernacles, Edersheim wrote—

The whole symbolism of the Feast, beginning with the completed harvest, for which it was a thanksgiving, pointed to the future.  The ceremony of the out-pouring of water was symbolical of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

God’s ultimate blessing to the Israelites was the Promised Land; a land of abundance.  Imagine the awe the people were struck with when they stepped out of the desert and into a lush, green rainforest where there was no shortage of water!  But all earthly things are temporary and eventually give way to other forces.  Lush plants wither and die as seasons change or insects eat their leaves.  The rains stop during times of drought.  Anything in the natural is subject to change.

This is where Jesus excels as Messiah:  His blessings are not natural; they are supernatural and spiritual in nature and are therefore not subject to any force existent on this planet.  Nothing can stop the flow of the Holy Spirit as He descends, fills, baptizes and overflows out from the lives of believers to touch others.  No church or church leader or worldly force can stop this from happening.  It is a supernatural force of God’s Nature.

Little wonder the religious leaders of Jesus’ day felt threatened by Jesus.  His coming signaled the dawn of a new age that liberated all people from the pursuit of fruitless religions founded on man’s flawed ideas.  True liberty can only come from a relationship with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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